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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Thursday, 30 April 2015

OUR CONCILIAR SALVATION (ORTHODOX), GUARDINI ON THE CHURCH (CATHOLIC); ST PETER DAMIAN ON THE "DOMINUS VOBISCUM", DOM ANDRE LOUF OCSO ON "THE LITURGY OF THE HEART", KHOMIAKOV ON THE CHURCH (ORTHODOX) & ME

OUR CONCILIAR SALVATION
Fr. Stephen Freeman




  
I consider it both a strange mystery and a settled matter of the faith that God prefers not to do things alone. Repeatedly, He acts in a manner that involves the actions of others when, it would seem, He could have acted alone.


Why would God reveal His Word to the world through the agency of men? Why would He bother to use writing? Why not simply communicate directly with people? Why speak to Moses in a burning bush? Why did the Incarnation involve Mary? Could He not have simply become man, whole, complete, adult, in a single moment?



Such questions could be multiplied ad infinitum. But at every turn, what we know of God involves others as well. We may rightly conclude that such a means of acting pleases Him.



Today is the Feast of the Annunciation when the Church celebrates the Incarnation of Christ at word of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. An Orthodox hymn on the feast says:



The manner of His emptying cannot be known;

the manner of His conception is beyond speech.
An Angel ministers at the miracle; a virginal womb receives the Son;
the Holy Spirit is sent down; the Father on high is well pleased,
and according to their common counsel, a reconciliation is brought to pass
in which and through which we are saved.


“According to their common counsel” is a rich phrase describing this conciliar action of God.



At the same time that this conciliar mode of action seems obvious to Orthodoxy, it is frequently denied or diminished by others. There is a fear in some Christian quarters that were we to admit that God shared His action with any other, our salvation would be a matter of our own works and not the sovereign act of God. It is feared that a conciliar mode of action shares the glory of God with mere mortals.



It is true. This understanding shares the glory of God with mere mortals. But, interestingly, St. Paul says that man is the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7). Apparently, we were brought into existence in order to have such a share.



The failure to understand this and the effort to re-invent the Christian story with diminished roles for angels and saints, or Christians themselves, comes very close to setting forth a different gospel altogether.



The Word became flesh of the Virgin Mary. The flesh of the Virgin is also the flesh that is nailed to the Cross (when her soul was itself mysteriously pierced). The flesh which we eat in the Eucharist is also the flesh of the Virgin – for there is no flesh of God that is not the flesh of the Virgin.



And it does no good to protest that the Word merely “took flesh” of the Virgin. For Adam cried out concerning Eve, “This is truly bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” And St. Paul noted concerning the wife of a man that a man should love her, “For no one ever yet hated his own flesh.”



I puzzle at how Christians who understand that it is wrong for a woman to say, “It’s my body and I can do with it what I want,” when she is carrying a child, can at the same time treat the Mother of God as though she had merely lent her womb to God for a period of time.



God’s conciliar action in our salvation is so thoroughly established that it involves our will, our soul, our flesh and bones. He includes bread and wine in our salvation so that the fruit of this garden might become the fruit of life. Everything around you is for your salvation and has its share.



This is not only true in the Incarnation, but continues to be true for every saving effort in our lives. We cannot save ourselves, of course, for that, too, would be denying the conciliar action of God.



There is a saying among the fathers, “If anyone falls, he falls alone, but no one can be saved alone.” But I think we cannot even say that we fall alone – for the one who falls is equally bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Christ does not distance Himself from the one who falls, but unites Himself with him so completely that He endures the consequence of our fall, entering death and hell to bring us back alive.



The Church is nothing other than the conciliar salvation of God, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh – His body. We are being saved together whether we will admit it or not. Those who study and quote the Bible are themselves handling documents that were written, copied and preserved by others. It is a conciliar document.



The Orthodox way of life urges us to embrace the fullness of our conciliar being. In sacraments and saints in worship and wonder we live within the cloud of witnesses and share the common struggle.


For this reason let us unite our song with Gabriel’s,
crying aloud to the Virgin:
“Rejoice, O Lady full of grace, the Lord is with you!
From you is our salvation, Christ our God,
Who, by assuming our nature, has led us back to Himself.
Humbly pray to Him for the salvation of our souls!”

Fr. Stephen Freeman

07 / 04 / 2015


Romano Guardini: Father of the New Evangelization
CHRISTOPHER SHANNON

As Benedict XVI prepared to step down from his pontificate, he offered the following words to those who feared that his resignation marked a dangerous departure from tradition:  “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.” These words were not his own, but rather those of his intellectual mentor, Romano Guardini (1885-1968).  Much of Benedict’s writing has been, at least implicitly, a long meditation on the work of Guardini.  In some cases, the connection has been more explicit:  Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000) is in many ways an updating of Guardini’s own 1918 work, also titled The Spirit of the Liturgy.  That original work inspired a dialogue between Guardini and the phenomenologist Max Scheler, whom Karol Wojtyla would make the subject of his doctoral dissertation under Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange.  As a student in Munich during the 1980s, Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered writing his dissertation on Guardini himself; more recently, as Pope Francis, he invoked the legacy of Guardini in some of his earliest public addresses of his pontificate.

Who is this man who has had such a profound influence on our last three popes? How are we to understand his vision of the Church as a dynamic, living reality when such an understanding has so often served as a rationale for rejecting traditional understandings of Church doctrine?  Is not the turn to phenomenology and other philosophies of experience responsible for what Pope Benedict himself has called the “tyranny of relativism”?  Guardini’s work had a profound influence on the Second Vatican Council and can still induce anxiety among the kind of traditionalist who views any departure from mid-century Thomism as apostasy.   His distance from the dominant Thomism of his day was, however, a measure of his proximity to an older Augustinian tradition that seemed to offer the possibility of a more fruitful engagement with the modern world.  With his emphasis on the need for an intimate encounter with the person of Christ and his openness to seeing the good in the modern world outside of the Church, Guardini deserves to be considered among the earliest fathers of the New Evangelization.

Romano Guardini 1950Romano Guardini was born in 1885 in Verona, Italy.  Soon after his birth, his family moved to the city of Mainz, Germany, where his father went to pursue his career as an import/export merchant.  Guardini grew up in a faithful, if not excessively devout, Catholic home.  This merely conventional Catholic upbringing left him unable to respond to the intellectual challenges posed by the rampant agnosticism and atheism he encountered as a young man attending the University of Munich.  Guardini soon began to question his own faith and underwent a period of spiritual crisis that he would later compare to that of St. Augustine.  Guardini’s tolle lege moment came while on vacation from university at his parent’s home in Mainz while on vacation from university.  The scripture passage that drew him out of his confusion was Matthew 10:39:  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Apart from all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God stood the primary, existential submission of the will:

It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who “find their life,” that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves….

Even as Guardini recognized the submission as a means to true freedom, he also realized the dangers of a freedom conceived apart from any communal authority; his personal conversion came with a renewed appreciation for the necessity of the Church as an objective referent giving meaning and order to freedom.

After resolving his crisis of faith, Guardini returned to his secular studies, but soon felt called to the priesthood, eventually receiving holy orders on May 28, 1910.  Over the next ten years, he held various parish assignments in Mainz as he pursued the degrees necessary to qualify him to teach in the German university system.  Never questioning the authority of the Church in matters of doctrine, Guardini would nonetheless devote his priestly and scholarly life to moving beyond narrowly juridical notions of the Church in favor of a fuller appreciation of the Church as the font of freedom and love.

Sadly, in the wake of Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism in 1907, words like freedom and love had acquired the odor of heresy.  Guardini chafed under the rigid discipline of the seminary at Mainz; the textbook Thomism devised as a bulwark against the errors of Modernism left him cold.  His decision to explore the Platonic/Augustinian tradition of the Church by writing his thesis on St. Bonaventure (rather than St. Thomas) brought him into conflict with his clerical superiors and eventually prevented him from securing a teaching position at the diocesan seminary.

Guardini’s search for a way to bring freedom, love and unity together within the Church eventually led him to the liturgical movement. The movement began as part of the renewal of Benedictine monastic life in nineteenth-century France. By the early twentieth century, Pius X sought to direct the movement outward to the parishes in the service of cultivating a more conscious, active participation of the laity at Mass.  In his classic The Spirit of the Liturgy, Guardini presented the experience of the liturgy as an antidote to the cold rationalism and narrow moralism that he saw afflicting the Church of his day.  Against these, Guardini sees in the spirit of the liturgy a spirit of playfulness:  “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of at deeper experience of God.  This experience, while personal, is never private. Guardini feared that the popular devotions that had energized the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century had fostered a spiritual individualism in which prayer had become simply a tool for accruing merit in the quest for individual salvation. Against this, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God.

Guardini would develop this theme of community more fully in his next major work, The Church and the Catholic (1922). Based on a series of lectures delivered to a meeting of the Catholic Academic Association, the book nonetheless addressed a problem facing the broader Western world:  the absence of community.  Modernity had destroyed the bonds of traditional society and marginalized the Church as a source of social unity, leaving in its wake the anarchic individualism of liberal capitalism.  Communism offered an alternative to this anarchy, but only at the expense of eliminating individual freedom.  Against the extremes of Communism and individualism, Guardini held up the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ, an organic union of persons that made possible the full flourishing of the “free personality,” which is “the presupposition of all true community.”  Guardini’s Catholic message struck a chord with the non-Catholic world, earning him the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung at the very Protestant, and still largely anti-Catholic, University of Berlin.

Guardini’s academic position at a non-Catholic university put him in an unusual position with respect to the intellectual life of the Church.  His ideas on community and liturgy would find papal approbation in Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947), yet his fellow Catholic academics largely ignored him. He did not speak the language of Thomism and generally avoided the axe-grinding, triumphalist apologetics that were the stuff of mainstream Catholic “engagement” with the world.  His lectures did, however, attract some of the brightest young minds of his day, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasaar and Hannah Arendt.  In reaching out to the world, Guardini looked for theological themes in places where Thomists feared to tread—namely modern literature and Eastern religions. In these explorations, Guardini often found himself perceived as too “liberal” for mainstream Catholics and too Catholic for mainstream secularists.  In writing on non-Catholic figures such as Friedrich Hölderlin, Eduard Mörike and Rainer Maria Rilke, Guardini was able to express an appreciation for the depth and beauty of their accounts of human experience, yet still hold them accountable to Catholic truth.  Similarly, at a time when so many intellectuals were abandoning Christianity for Eastern religions, Guardini saw the need to acknowledge the truth and goodness in Buddhism while insisting on the absolute uniqueness of Christianity.  Jesus Christ is not a wise man who points us to the truth; He is the Truth.  Christianity is not based primarily on a set of dogmas, but on the person of Jesus Christ.

Guardini’s vision of Catholicism and its relation to the modern world won him many accolades from the non-Catholic world.  Though hardly a “representative” figure of early-twentieth century Catholic theology, his writings, along with those of the French ressourcement movement, had a profound effect on shaping the vision of the Second Vatican Council.  Like so many of those French theologians, Guardini recoiled at the early efforts to implement the vision of the Council, most especially the liturgical innovations that worked directly against his understanding of the spirit of the liturgy.  Those who directed the life of the Church in the decades following the Council were bad Thomists without being good Augustinians.  It would take good Augustinians and careful readers of Guardini such as Josef Ratzinger to help set the Church back on the right path.


This path, however, involves neither a return to the pre-Vatican II Church nor a “conservative” interpretation of the Council.  Guardini, Ratzinger, Wojtyla and Bergoglio have all in various ways sought to fashion a Catholic modernity, a new Catholicism appropriate to our time yet faithful to tradition.  Catholics since the Council have largely either retreated into a fortress of unchanging, timeless truth or surrendered to the tyranny of relativism.  Our Church offers us another way to think about living in time and embracing historical particularity.  No one age can embody the entire truth of the faith.   God gives us each age as a gift embodying the particular aspect of the faith most needed at a particular time.  Romano Guardini was one of the first to offer to the modern world a vision of the Church nurturing the flourishing of free personality within community.  If secular modernity has yet to recognize this vision, it is perhaps because Catholics themselves have yet to embrace it.

Indeed, the Church of Christ is united in all her parts by such a bond of love that her several members form a single body and in each one the whole Church is mystically present; so that the whole Church universal may rightly be called the one bride of Christ, and on the other hand every single soul can, because of the mystical effect of the sacrament, be regarded as the whole Church.

 The cohesive force of mutual charity by which the Church is united is so great that she is not merely one in her many members but also, is some mysterious way, present in her entirety in each individual.....By reason of her unity of faith, she has not, in her many members, many parts, and yet through  the close-knit bond of charity and the varied charismatic gifts she shows many facets in her individual members.   Through the Holy Church is thus diversified in many individuals, she is none the less welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit. (On the Dominus Vobiscum) 

And so the priest before he offers sacrifice and prayers to God shows by this mutual greeting that he is bound to the faithful by the bond of brotherly love; he does this so that he may make this commandment of the Lord clear by his outward actions, as well as keeping it in his heart.  Because of this, he sees as present with the eyes of the spirit all those for whom he prays, whether or not they are actually there in the flesh; he knows that all who are praying with him are present in spiritual communion.  And so the eye of faith directs the words of his greeting and he realizes the spiritual presence of those whom he knows to be near at hand.  Therefore let no brother who lives alone in a cell be afraid to utter the words which are common to the whole Church; for although he is separated in space from the congregation of the faithful yet he is bound together with them all by love in the unity of faith; although they are absent in the flesh, they are near at hand in the mystical unity of the Church (Chapter 18, 73-74).

A vow of conversation
June 23, 2008/ my source: The Vow of Converstation
Dom André Louf on the Liturgy of the Heart
Posted by Macrina Walker under Events, Prayer, Syrian Fathers 

This is my report of a public lecture given by Dom André Louf in Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Parish, Ghent, as part of the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers. Please note my earlier disclaimer on the accuracy of my reporting and translations, something that may particularly apply to my reporting of this talk as I was tired and my note taking somewhat uneven! I also have the impression that Dom André skipped over some sections due to time constraints. Once the text is published I may consider doing an English translation for publication somewhere.

Dom André Louf, ocso is abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He is now a hermit and translates Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

The phrase “liturgy of the heart” is not found in Scripture but it finds its roots in the reference in 1 Peter 3, 4 in which Peter speaks of the “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” (“interior disposition of the heart”, NJB, or “inner self”, NRSV), literally the hidden human being of the heart.

This interior human heart is viewed by Scripture in rather ambiguous terms. It may be orientated to wicked schemes (Gen. 6, 5), it may be hard and even turned to stone (Ex. 7, 3) but it may also be softened and humbled (2 K 22, 19) and especially contrite (Ps 50, 17) and to be healed by God (Ps 147, 3). God reproaches the uncircumcised heart (Lv 26,41; Dt 10, 16; 30, 6; Jer. 9, 26). It is on the tablets of the heart that God will write a new law (Pr. 3,3; 7, 3). With the prophet Ezekiel God promises to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (11, 19; 36, 26). Solomon will plead for such a heart at the beginning of his reign (1 K. 3, 9) and advises his son David to watch over his heart, for from the heart come the wellsprings of life. (Pr. 4, 23)

Jesus’ teaching on interiority lies within this tradition. He calls the pure of heart blessed, and contrasts them with closed hearts and hearts which bring forth evil (Mt. 15, 18). “Good people draw what is good from the store of goodness in their hearts; bad people draw what is bad from the store of badness. For the words of the mouth flow out of what fills the heart.” (Lk 6, 45) It is in the heart that one can ponder the Word as Mary did (Lk 2, 19) for as Paul reminds us (quoting Deuteronomy) “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Rm 10, 8) It is likewise the hearts that burned within when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Lk 24, 32) The heart is also the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6, 19), a temple in which an interior liturgy is celebrated (Ep. 5, 19).

Such are the biblical illusions that are summed up in the phrase “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” of 1 Peter 3, 4.

Paul contrasts this “inner nature” with our “outer nature” that is decaying. (2 Cor. 4, 16-18).

Could it be that this most interior reality is frightening for our contemporaries? We can even ask why the text from Ephesians 5, 19 “sing and praise in your hearts” is often translated today as “with all your heart”. While this might be linguistically defensible, no single Church Father interpreted in this way, for they understood it as alluding to the interior liturgy of the heart, which runs as a thread through the entire patristic tradition.

This liturgy of the heart is something which the Holy Spirit is constantly praying in every baptised person, whether we are aware of it or not. “…the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words” (Rm 8, 26). This prayer is something which all Christians carry in their hearts, whether they are aware of it or not. In the deepest part of our being we find grace and prayer, and even if we are unaware of it the Spirit is praying “Abba, Father” in us.

If this is true, then the purpose of prayer is simply to bring us into contact with this prayer that is already being prayed in us. Any “methods” or “techniques” of prayer, or the disciplines of turning inwards and quieting the heart, only exist to help this unconscious prayer to become conscious. This is, moreover, an unconsciousness that is much deeper than the psychological unconscious which is becoming better known today. This is an unconscious that touches the very roots of our being. It is metaphysical and meta-psychological, for it is concerned with that place where our being is immersed in God and repeatedly springs up from God. This is the place where prayer does not stop, the domus interior or templum interius as it was called in the Middle Ages.

Most of the time we are not conscious of the prayer taking place in this inner temple. We can only believe in it with a growing certainty, and trust that God will lift the veil and allow a little of this unconscious prayer to emerge to consciousness. Sometimes this is merely a sudden illumination, a passing light which clarifies aspects of our existence and which never leaves us even in the midst of new periods of dryness. More often, though, it involves a slow and patient process in which something emerges towards the surface, awakening a new sensitivity or what Ruusbroec called a “feeling above all feelings”.

While it is certainly true that some circumstances are more conducive to this process than others, and thus silence, simplicity and asceticism can be important preparations for prayer, Christian prayer is never determined by such preparations. God allows prayer to arise in us “when He wills, as He wills and where He wills” as Ruusbroec says. For God is always greater than our heart and remains the only Master of our prayer. Prayer is totally gratuitous although we need to persevere in times of trial.

In persevering in times of dryness and crisis, in seeing all of our efforts ending in dead ends, and in being confronted with our own weakness that we receive the grace of recognising ourselves for the sinners who we really are. It is precisely in encountering ourselves as sinners that we also encounter the grace of God. John Cassian tells us: 

Let us in this way learn in all that we do to perceive both our own weakness and the grace of God at the same time, so that we are able to proclaim every day with the saints: “They have pushed me down to make me fall, but the Lord has supported me.”

What is our task as human beings in this process? It has only one name, and that is humility. Cassian describes this as “every day humbly following the grace of God that draws us.” Learning humility, even, or perhaps especially, through failure, is the greatest lesson that we can learn. As one of the Fathers said: “I would rather choose a defeat humbly accepted than a victory achieved with pride.”

This is the heart of the process, the point at which it is possible for a new sensitivity to be born, and it can be characterised by confusion and doubt. The old Christian literature referred to this with the imagery of “diatribe tès kardias” or “contritio cordis” or “contrition mentis”. It would be good to try and recapture something of the jolting language which has been lost in later translations, for this is not simply about “contrition” as we have come to understand it in recent spiritual literature but rather about a “broken” and “pulverised” heart that has literally been shattered. In this we are reminded of the utter poverty of the Christian. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Believe me, my brother, you have not yet understood the power of temptation, nor the subtlety of its guiles. One day the experience will teach it to you and you will see yourself as a child who no longer knows where to look. All your knowledge will be nothing more than confusion, like that of a little child. Your spirit which appeared to be so firmly anchored in God, your precise knowledge, your balanced thought world, they will all be submerged in an ocean of doubt. Only one thing will be able to help you and will conquer them, namely, humility. Once you have grasped this, their power will disappear.

And, as Saint Basil tells us, “Often it is humility that saves someone who has sinned frequently and heavily.”

This is a painful pedagogy. Instead of fleeing from it, we are called to follow its trajectory and to make it our own, not out of masochism, but because one senses that it is the secret source of the only true life. In biblical language we can say that it is here that the heart of stone becomes broken so that may be made into a heart of flesh.

If such temptation does lead to sin then this is not due to a lack of generosity, but rather to a lack of humility. And sin offers us the chance to discover the narrow and low gate that leads to the Kingdom. Indeed, it could be that the most dangerous temptation is not the temptation that leads to sin, but rather the temptation that follows sin, namely the temptation of despair. It is only through eventually learning humility that we can escape this. And through this we learn the gift of mercy. Isaac of Nineveh writes: 

Who can still be brought into confusion by the memory of his own sins…? Will God forgive me these things whose memory so torments me? Things that I have an aversion to but which I nevertheless slip towards. And when I have done them their memory torments me more than a scorpion’s bite. I detest them and yet I find myself in their midst, and when I feel pain and sorrow over them I continue to seek them our – oh unhappy person that I am! … This is how many God fearing people think, people who desire virtue but whose weakness forces them to take into account their own frailty: they live continually imprisoned between sin and remorse. … Nevertheless, do not doubt your salvation … His mercy is much greater than you can imagine, and His grace is greater than you can dare to ask for. He looks only for the slightest sorrow …

How does this transition occur? We cannot predict when or how we will be brought into this interiority, but when it happens we know that we are not in control. We become aware of a new sensitivity and of a peace that cannot deceive us, of a centeredness and of a prayer that emerges of its own accord. There are certain times or places in our lives at which we find ourselves closer to this breakthrough, times or places where one is closer to its becoming a reality.

One of these privileged places is always the listening to the Word of God in Scripture. Scripture has the power to shake our heart awake, to drill through it, batter it open, so that prayer can spring up. Likewise, sickness, the death of someone close to us, and great temptations are favourable moments in which our longing for God means that we are more open to Him.

We find all these favourable moments brought together in the celebration of the Liturgy. The Church has instinctively sensed the mysterious affinity between the external Liturgy celebrated in churches of stone and the Liturgy celebrated in the deepest depth of each baptised Christian. The Church has learnt through experience how to harmonise these two liturgies of the praying Christian.

In our contemporary world we find conflicting desires that make such interiority difficult. On the one hand there is a desire for such interiority, but, on the other hand, there is much that makes it difficult for us to surrender to it. We cannot blame this on God, who desires to give Himself to us. But the children of the Church are also the children of their culture and find themselves in a cultural transition. It may be that there are elements in our culture, both of yesterday and of today, that make it more difficult to find real interiority. Or it may be that there are elements that at first sight make it easier to enter into such interiority – such as the reactions to the dangers below found in some youth movements which are orientated to religious experience – but which are really illusory.

We can name three negative influences in the religious culture of the last decades. The first is to reduce the Gospel to an ideology, which is more orientated to thought patterns than to life. The Second is to reduce the Gospel to activism, in which one loses contact with one’s inner life and reduces the Gospel to marketing. And the third is to reduce the Gospel to moralism in which a skewed moral vision which can hinder authentic interior experience.

[Dom André skipped over the first two points – I suspect due to time pressure – and concentrated on the third.]

The life of the Holy Spirit in us seeks ways to express itself in concrete circumstances, but if it is authentic this is, in the first place, expressed in spontaneity, freedom and deep joy. In a second moment we can describe Christian behaviour from without, such as Paul does in his teaching on the fruits of the Spirit. Such a moral pedagogy should help to bring us into contact with the inner experience and make us sensitive to the workings of the Spirit. However, it has not always been so simple. Influenced by cultural ethical schemas, morality has sometimes lost its way in abstract and absolutised studies of human behaviour which resulted in an idealised set of rules which one had to adhere to.

This is not to deny the need for ethical norms, but rather to recognise their pitfalls, and in particular the danger of separating interior disposition and exterior action. This can result in two dangers. Firstly, it can result in someone who is unable to live up to the expectations of the law becoming caught up in a spiral of guilt. The law accuses, but Jesus refuses to accuse and has come to free us from guilt. Secondly, it can result in a more subtle and dangerous danger, that of an easy conscience and apparent perfection in which one becomes cut off from the liberating action of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus avoided both of these dangers. He never drove sinners to despair and he confronted the conceit of the Pharisees. He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners.

To speak about sin and sinners is a problem in our contemporary world, which does not know how to deal with sin and sinners. Yet there is a link between sin and our access to the inner way. We may be desperate sinners who are burdened with guilt feelings. Or we may play the role of freed sinners who dream of a morality without sin. Or – and this is the worst – we may be the incurably righteous who look down on sinners. Insofar as we belong to one of these categories we are not able to access the inner way.


God longs for sinners as a Father longs for his lost son. For genuine sinners, who do not seek to gloss over or excuse their weakness, but who have become reconciled with their weakness and who rely on God’s mercy. At the moment that one receives God’s forgiveness, someone is opened up in one’s heart so that one’s heart can become transformed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Sin no longer drags one down and bruises one, but has rather become the door to the depths of our heart for it leads us to the knowledge of the merciful Father.

from THE CHURCH IS ONE by Alexei Khomiakov

 We know that when any one of us falls he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her, and in unity with all her other members. If any one believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer. Wherefore no one can rest his hope on his own prayers, and every one who prays asks the whole Church for intercession, not as if he had doubts of the intercession of Christ, the one Advocate, but in the assurance that the whole Church ever prays for all her members. All the angels pray for us, the apostles, martyrs, and patriarchs, and above them all, the Mother of our Lord, and this holy unity is the true life of the Church. But if the Church, visible and invisible, prays without ceasing, why do we ask her for her prayers? Do we not entreat mercy of God and Christ, although His mercy preventeth our prayer? The very reason that we ask the Church for her prayers is that we know that she gives the assistance of her intercession even to him that does not ask for it, and to him that asks she gives it in far greater measure than he asks: for in her is the fulness of the Spirit of God. Thus we glorify all whom God has glorified and is glorifying; for how should we say that Christ is living within us, if we do not make ourselves like unto Christ? Wherefore we glorify the Saints, the Angels, and the Prophets, and more than all the most pure Mother of the Lord Jesus, not acknowledging her either to have been conceived without sin, or to have been perfect (for Christ alone is without sin and perfect), but remembering that the pre-eminence, passing all understanding, which she has above all God's creatures was borne witness to by the Angel and by Elizabeth and, above all, by the Savior Himself when He appointed John, His great Apostle and seer of mysteries, to fulfil the duties of a son and serve her.

 Just as each of us requires prayers from all, so each person owes his prayers on behalf of all, the living and the dead, and even those who are as yet unborn; for in praying, as we do with all the Church, that the world may come to the knowledge of God, we pray not only for the present generation, but for those whom God will hereafter call into life. We pray for the living that the grace of God may be upon them, and for the dead that they may become worthy of the vision of God's face. We know nothing of an intermediate state of souls, which have neither been received into the kingdom of God, nor condemned to torture, for of such a state we have received no teaching either from the Apostles or from Christ; we do not acknowledge Purgatory, that is, the purification of souls by sufferings from which they may be redeemed by their own works or those of others: for the Church knows nothing of salvation by outward means, not any sufferings whatever they may be, except those of Christ; nor of bargaining with God, as in the case of a man buying himself off by good works.

But we pray in the spirit of love, knowing that no one will be saved otherwise than by the prayer of all the Church, in which Christ lives, knowing and trusting that so long as the end of time has not come, all the members of the Church, both living and departed, are being perfected incessantly by mutual prayer. The Saints whom God has glorified are much higher than we, but higher than all is the Holy Church, which comprises within herself all the Saints, and prays for all, as may be seen in the divinely inspired Liturgy. In her prayer our prayer is also heard, however unworthy we may be to be called sons of the Church. If, while worshipping and glorifying the Saints, we pray that God may glorify them, we do not lay ourselves open to the charge of pride; for to us who have received permission to call God "Our Father" leave has also been granted to pray, "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." And if we are permitted to pray of God that He will glorify His Name, and accomplish His Will, who will forbid us to pray Him to glorify His Saints, and to give repose to His elect? For those indeed who are not of the elect we do not pray, just as Christ prayed not for the whole world, but for those whom the Lord had given unto Him (St. John 17). Let no one say: "What prayer shall I apportion for the living or the departed, when my prayers are insufficient even for myself?" For if he is not able to pray, of what use would it be to pray even for himself? But in truth the spirit of love prays in him. Likewise let him not say: "What is the good of my prayer for another, when he prays for himself, and Christ Himself intercedes for him?" When a man prays, it is the spirit of love which prays within him. Let him not say: "It is even now impossible to change the judgement of God," for his prayer itself is included in the ways of God, and God foresaw it. If he be a member of the Church his prayer is necessary for all her members. If the hand should say that it did not require blood from the rest of the body, and that it would not give its own blood to it, the hand would wither. So a man is also necessary to the Church, as long as he is in her; and, if he withdraws himself from communion with her, he perishes himself and will cease to be any longer a member of the Church. The Church prays for all, and we pray together for all; but our prayer must be true, and a true expression of love, and not a mere form of words. Not being able to love all men, we pray for those whom we love, and our prayer is not hypocritical; but we pray God that we may be able to love all and pray for all without hypocrisy. Mutual prayer is the blood of the Church, and the glorification of God her breath. We pray in a spirit of love, not of interest, in the spirit of filial freedom, not of the law of the hireling demanding his pay. Every man who asks: "What use is there in prayer?" acknowledges himself to be in bondage. True prayer is true love.

 Love and unity are above everything, but love expresses itself in many ways: by works, by prayer, and by spiritual songs. The Church bestows her blessing upon all these expressions of love. If a man cannot express his love for God by word, but expresses it by a visible representation, that is to say an image (icon), will the Church condemn him? No, but she will condemn the man who condemns him, for he is condemning another's love. We know that without the use of an image men may also be saved and have been saved, and if a man's love does not require an image he will be saved without one; but if the love of his brother requires an image, he, in condemning this brother's love, condemneth himself; if a man being a Christian dare not listen without a feeling of reverence to a prayer or spiritual song composed by his brother, how dare he look without reverence upon the image which his love, and not his art, has produced? The Lord Himself, who knows the secrets of the heart, has designed more than once to glorify a prayer or psalm; will a man forbid Him to glorify an image or the graves of the Saints?

THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH IN LOVE.

 The cohesive force of mutual charity by which the Church is united is so great that she is not merely one in her many members but also, is some mysterious way, present in her entirety in each individual.

This observation by St Peter Damian is more profoundly true than the teaching of Vatican I that the Church is held together by a jurisdiction that emanates from Rome.  The universal Church is held together by a universal love, rather than a universal jurisdiction. This love is the outward sign of the inner presence of the Holy Spirit. When the universal love ceases to be practised, it is only a matter of time before the universal jurisdiction collapses like a pack of cards.   When universal jurisdiction is imposed without universal love, then it lacks persuasive force just like a claim to jurisdiction in the secular world when the authority doesn't possess the military force to back up its demands, like the Byzantine Empire which claimed authority in the West during the Lombard invasions of Italy without having the means to enforce that authority.   Universal love is in the Church what brute force is in the secular world. 

However, universal love, if it is to operate smoothly and for the benefit of all, generation after generation, and in all places, needs a system of law and effective jurisdiction to provide agreed channels by means of which it operates.  If charity is to be universal and without boundaries, then authority is needed which is universal and without boundaries, an authority which presides over the churches in love; but this jurisdiction is secondary to ecclesial love, and its only justification is to serve it.

Thus, when we see a sad situation as in the Ukraine, the ecclesiastical battle is not primarily a clash of jurisdictions: it is, more basically, a failure of ecclesial love manifested in the clash of jurisdictions.

The only real alternative to universal jurisdiction is Orthodoxy which, while it thrives and is an example to all at a local and regional levels, yet, at a universal level, where there is no law, the bickering between Moscow and Constantinople are a thinly disguised scandal, and where autocephalous churches treat each other like foreign powers, and nationalism can distort the Christian perspective .

On the other hand, because Church law is meant to be an expression of charity, this imposes all kinds of restrictions because laws that express love rather than power are very different from any other kind of law.   They would have to seek the well being of those obliged to obey them; they would have to respect all the people and recognise the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, permitting them the freedom to exercise those gifts, and they would have to respect the nature of the Church and Tradition and the part each person and group play within it. 

Pope Francis signed himself in a recent church document with only two titles, the most Christian of all titles used by popes, "Bishop of Rome", and "Servant of the servants of God", the latter showing that his universal jurisdiction is nothing more or less than the right to wash the feet of the whole Church, a function he should always do, not separate from, and always in communion with his brother bishops.  To use Fr Stephen Freeman's phrase, the Church is conciliar from its beginnings in God and at every level and in every aspect.   This we are learning, in part, from our Orthodox friends, but also by looking again at our own tradition which confirms what the Orthodox tell us.

In the meantime, we  must remember that all who share in the Mass or Divine Liturgy are participating in the Liturgy of heaven in which Christ himself, dead in total self-giving but standing in triumph, enters the Holy of Holies to make intercession for us, and we, entering through the veil which is Christ's flesh, given to us in the Eucharist, we transcend all divisions, here and now.   Moreover, we receive Christ into our heart, and with him, all others who are united to him; so that, in the Liturgy of the Heart, each of us and all of us, in spite of divisions, are in Christ and he in us.   The quest for unity goes on, not only in our ecclesial life, but also in heaven and within the heart of each one.  Both in the Eucharist we celebrate and the resulting presence of Christ in our heart, we are offered Christ whole and entire, hence the fullness of Catholicism.

Any Christian mission that demands that others should change must always begin by demanding changes in ones self.  St Peter Damian and Dom Andres Louf indicate why.  We have this quotation permanently in our site:
If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. But if we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political, and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ. (Thomas Merton)







Tuesday, 28 April 2015

THE MEASURE OF MERCY: FRANCIS AND THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE YEAR by Dr Jared Staudt (plus) SAINT ISAAC OF SYRIA & THE LOVE OF GOD


The horrors of the 20th century and the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II form the backdrop to the Holy Father's recent announcement of a Holy Year of MercyDr. R. Jared Staudt

Pope Francis hears confessions during a Lenten penance service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13. During the service the pope announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Cor 6:2-3).

“This is the time of mercy. It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!” – From Pope Francis’s Announcement of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, March 13, 2015

Pope St. John Paul II has been called the pope of mercy for his support of the Divine Mercy devotion and his establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday, but Pope Francis has also been making mercy a hallmark of his papacy. Even his motto references the Lord’s mercy in calling each of us to follow Christ. The Vatican Radio in explaining the Jubilee Year described the significance of his motto:

Miserando atque eligendo. This citation is taken from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy [miserando] and by choosing [eligendo], he says to him, ‘follow me.’”

In addition to this piece from the Vatican Radio, which sought to situate the Jubilee Year of Mercy within Francis’s teaching—noting that his first angelus addressed mercy and the theme appeared 32 times in Evangelii Gaudium (EG)—other articles have highlighted the importance of mercy within Francis’s pontificate as the “real face” of Francis’ revolution and also within his life more broadly.

Is mercy the way in which Pope Francis wants us to read his papacy? Could his oft quoted and criticized line, “who I am to judge?” be read in terms of mercy triumphing over judgment (James 2:13)? Could it explain his criticism of an “economy of exclusion” (EG, 53) as not prioritizing mercy toward neighbor? Even the controversy of the two synods could be seen in light of mercy in his closing speech to the extraordinary synod last fall. He specifically refers to his role as Pope as uniting and reminding pastors of their need for mercy in regards to their lost sheep:

So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep.

Pope Francis sees this as a time of mercy and wants all of us to receive this mercy right now and to show it to others in the context of the Jubilee that he has called.

Mercy as a personal encounter with God

Pope Francis related that he had a profound experience of mercy in his teenage years through the sacrament of Confession. 
After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call.” 
This was the definitive moment of mercy in his life, which fuels his desire to share this mercy with others. He describes the Church as a “community [that] has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (EG,24).

I also felt the Lord’s mercy very directly in my life when I was a young teen. I had actually just gotten expelled from the public school system (because I foolishly had brought a Boy Scout knife to school) and only the Catholic school would take me in. I was a non-practicing Catholic, but my pastor invited me to serve Mass on the anniversary of his ordination. When I received Communion that morning I knew that everything was suddenly different—I was home; I had found what I was looking for. Although I was young, I knew what it was like to live apart from God and to have found him.

This experience of mercy was reinforced by an eighth-grade project on the Divine Mercy devotion. We had to produce a short paper, but my mother purchased for me the entire Divine Mercy Diary of St. Faustina. At the age of fourteen, it was the first Catholic book I had ever read and it has fundamentally shaped my life.

Jesus’ message to St. Faustina shows the essence of mercy as a personal encounter with the merciful God, who draws us to himself and his love:

My Heart was moved by great mercy towards you, My dearest child, when I saw you torn to shreds because of the great pain you suffered in repenting for your sins. . . . I lift up the humble even to my very throne, because I want it so (282).

In an age of individualism, secularism, and despair, the Lord has chosen to reveal the greatness of his mercy, which he offers to each one of us as a gift and a call to share this mercy with others. “Take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy. Oh, how I love those souls who have complete confidence in Me” (294). Mercy is a spirituality and a mission.

The greatness of mercy

St. Thomas is regularly quoted as stating that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. Aquinas does not state it in this fashion in the Summa, but he does imply that in relation to his creation, God’s actions essentially are merciful. First, in the prima pars, Aquinas states that since creatures are owed nothing by God, every work of creation proceeds only from God’s good will: “So in every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears mercy” (ST I, q. 21, ad 4). In the secunda secundae he asks if mercy is the greatest virtue and says that for us, the greatest virtue is charity, which unites us to God (though mercy does have priority toward neighbor). Mercy belongs most properly to those who stand above and thus pertains more to God than to us:

On itself, mercy takes precedence of other virtues, for it belongs to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succour others in their wants, which pertains chiefly to one who stands above. Hence mercy is accounted as being proper to God: and therein His omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested. . . . On the other hand, with regard to its subject, mercy is not the greatest virtue, unless that subject be greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all: since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. 

Because God needs no mercy from others and finds his good in himself, he is the source of good for all others and thus our relation to him is defined primarily by mercy. All that he gives us is mercy and he shows his great to us by mercy.

The private revelation received by St. Faustina, however, clearly proclaims the primacy of mercy: “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy” (301). Pope St. John Paul II affirmed this point in his encyclical on mercy, Dives in Misericordia: 
“Some theologians affirm that mercy is the greatest of the attributes and perfections of God, and the Bible, Tradition and the whole faith life of the People of God provide particular proofs of this” (13).
 God shows us his greatness and love precisely through his mercy.

Mercy is not an attribute which should belong solely to God, however. Pope Francis assures us that “the way we treat others has a transcendent dimension: ‘The measure you give will be the measure you get’ (Mt 7:2). It corresponds to the mercy which God has shown us: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (EG, 179). He also quotes the article on whether mercy is the greatest virtue, reference above, in Aquinas:

Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree” (37, quoting S. Th., II-II, q. 30, a. 4).

The greatness of mercy, not only in our reception of God’s goodness and forgiveness but also in our relation to our neighbor, is the motivation for Francis’ emphasis. It shapes his vision of Church as 
“a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (EG, 114).

The twentieth century and God’s plan of mercy

The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest and most godless time in all of human history. Bl. John Henry Newman noted in 1873 that “the special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity” (“The Infidelity of the Future”). His insight was that the approaching age would become more secular and less marked by faith. It is interesting that as this prophetic insight has unfolded, the Lord has only increased the proclamation of mercy, rather than justice. Looking closely, we can see a key moment of the proclamation of God’s mercy.

Right in the middle of the First World War (aptly called “Europe’s suicide attempt” by some) came one of the boldest proclamations of mercy the world has seen. Mary’s apparition at Fatima—with its three secrets focusing on the world wars, Russia, and the persecution of the Church, later linked to the assassination attempt on St. John Paul II—signals to us the nature of God’s response to the atrocities of the twentieth century. When the angel of peace first spoke to the visionaries, he announced: “The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy for you.” The angel also annunciated the path to peace and mercy that Our Lady would bring: “Offer unceasingly to the Most High prayer and sacrifices.” The battle of the twentieth century was at its core a spiritual battle.

On the eve of World War II St. Faustina died, completing a series of revelations of divine mercy from 1931-38. At her canonization John Paul spoke of the providential timing of her life and the revelation of mercy:

By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy. Jesus told Sr. Faustina:  “Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy” (Diary, p. 132).

At the conclusion of the Cold War it was the Polish Pope, devoted to mercy, who led the Church into the new millennium. After surviving a Soviet-backed assassination attempt and inspiring a peaceful and successful resistance to Communist rule in Poland, John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday on the Octave day of Easter. The establishment of the feast, which he announced at St. Faustina’s canonisation, occurred at the opening of the new millennium, a clear sign that John Paul saw mercy as the hinge of our history as we enter a new age. Looking into the future, he said:

What will the years ahead bring us? What will man's future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr. Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.

Pointing again to God's mercy

Pope Francis is emphatically pointing the Church to God’s mercy. When viewed from a broader perspective, we see that God has been leading the Church consistently for a hundred years now to reflect more and more on his mercy. The more the world has turned from God, the more he has emphasised his mercy. St. John Paul, through the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday, brought divine mercy to the forefront of the Church’s life in the liturgy, a move which has only been strengthened by the new Jubilee.

Beginning with the Divine Mercy novena that commenced on Good Friday, we have an opportunity to turn to God’s mercy (and receive a plenary indulgence) and to prepare for the upcoming Jubilee Year. This year we have much to bring to the Lord for mercy—for example, our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, the end of abortion, the restoration of the family—and we should do so with confidence. The Lord wants us to know that in the midst of the chaos of this world, even in the darkest moments, he is ready to shower his mercy upon us and to lighten our path through this new millennium.


About the Author
Dr. R. Jared Staudt 

R. Jared Staudt, Ph.D. is Coordinator of the Catholic Studies Program at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. He earned his BA and MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and his PhD in Systematic Theology from Ave Maria University in Florida. Staudt served as a Director of Religious Education in two parishes, taught at the Augustine Institute in Denver for five years, and served as co-editor of the theological journal Nova et Vetera. His main interests are on the relation of faith and culture and the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. He and his wife Anne have five children and he is a Benedictine oblate.


COMMENTARY

If there is any Christian saint who had the bad luck to be born in schism that has a claim to be declared "Doctor of the Church", it is St Isaac the Syrian, called sometimes "St Isaac of Nineveh". What makes the declaration so timely is that, first, he was Syrian, at a time when the Christians in Syria, so riven with schism, are being uniformly persecuted by a satanic form of Islam, becoming martyrs together for Christ; and, secondly, because, more than any other saint known to me, he applies to every aspect of Christian belief, the basic revelation that God is Love.  He could be declared "Doctor of God's Mercy", because no one writes of God's love as he did.   Here are a few examples:

What profundity of richness, what mind and exalted wisdom is God’s! What compassionate kindness and abundant goodness belongs to the Creator! With what purpose and with what love did He create this world and bring it into existence! What a mystery does the coming into being of this creation look towards! To what a state is our common nature invited! What love served to initiate the creation of the world! This same love which initiated the act of creation prepared beforehand by another dispensation the things appropriate to adorn the world’s majesty which sprung forth as a result of the might of His love.
In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. And since in the New World the Creator’s love rules over all rational nature, the wonder at His mysteries that will be revealed then will captivate to itself the intellect of all rational beings whom He has created so that they might have delight in Him, whether they be evil or whether they be just. (II.38.1-2)
Let us consider then how rich in its wealth is the ocean of His creative act, and how many created things belong to God, and how in His compassion He carries everything, acting providentially as He guides creation; and how with a love that cannot be measured He arrived at the establishment of the world and the beginning of creation; and how compassionate God is, and how patient; and how He loves creation, and how He carries it, gently enduring its importunity, the various sins and wickednesses, the terrible blasphemies of demons and evil men. Then, once someone has stood amazed, and filled his intellect with the majesty of God, amazed at all these things He has done and is doing, then he wonders in astonishment at His mercifulness, how, after all these things, God has prepared for them another world that has no end, whose glory is not even revealed to the angels, even though they are involved in His activities insofar as is possible in the life of the spirit, in accordance with the gift with which their nature has been endowed. That person wonders too at how excelling is that glory, and how exalted is the manner of existence at that time; and how insignificant is the present life compared to what is reserved for creation in the New Life; and how, in order that the soul’s life will not be deprived of that blessed state because of misusing the freewill it has received, He has devised in His mercifulness a second gift, which is repentance, so that by it the soul’s life might acquire renewal every day and thereby every time be put aright. (II.10.19)
If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father? And why was he stretched out on the cross for the sake of sinners, handing over his sacred body to suffering on behalf of the world? I myself say that God did all this for no other reason than to make known to the world the love that he has, his aim being that we, as a result of our greater love arising from an awareness of this, might be captivated by his love when he provided the occasion of this manifestation of the kingdom of heaven’s mighty power—which consists in love—by means of the death of his Son. (Quoted in Alfeyev, p. 52)
But the sum of all is that God the Lord surrendered His own Son to death on the Cross for the fervent love of creation. … This was not, however, because He could not have redeemed us in another way, but so that His surpassing love, manifested hereby, might be a teacher unto us. And by the death of His only-begotten Son He made us near to Himself. Yeah, if He had had anything more precious, He would have given it to us, so that by it our race might be His own. (I.71, p. 492)
 Those, in whom the light of faith truly shines, never reach such unashamedness as to ask God: “Give us this,” or — “Remove from us this.”Because their spiritual eyes — with which they were blessed by that genuine Father, Who with His great love, countlessly transcends any fatherly love — continually view the Father’s Providence, they are not concerned in the slightest about themselves. God can do more than anyone else, and can assist us by a far greater measure than we could ever ask for, or even imagine.[…]

Not having distinctly experienced God’s patronage, the heart is in no condition to commune with Christ.A person cannot acquire a reliance on God if, prior to this, he hasn’t fulfilled His will according to one’s own strength.

Because hope in God and fortitude is born from witness of the conscience (in God): and only with genuine witness of our mind (in God) can we have trust in Him. 

God demands not only the fulfillment of the commandments but also — more importantly — reformation of the soul, which is the reason why the commandments were given. 

The body participates equally in good as well as bad deeds, and reason, by its behavior, becomes either righteous or sinful, judging by its disposition.

Life in this temporary world is akin to writing letters on a tablet. Everyone, when he wants to, can add or delete words on it or rearrange the letters. 

But the future life is akin to a manuscript, written on a clean sheet, on which it is forbidden to add or delete and stamped with the king’s seal. That’s why while we are in this inconstant world, let us be attentive to ourselves. 

And while we have authority over the earthly manuscript, on which we write with our own hand, let us endeavor to make good additions from a righteous life, and delete on it all the failings of our past actions.

This is because while we are in this world, God does not affix His stamp — neither to the virtuous nor to the evil — up to the hour of our leaving this life.  

When in remembering his sins a person punishes himself, God looks upon him with affection. God is pleased that for turning away from His path, the individual has conferred punishment upon himself — this serves as a sign of genuine repentance. 

And the harder the sinner compels himself, the greater the increase in God’s affection for him.
Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Selections from the Homilies @ Orthodox Photos 

We however are renewed in our minds by a new knowledge which was not revealed [to previous generations]. That is why we understand now the Nature which has no beginning, nor limit, whereas those [previous generations] still had a childish thinking with regards to God, believing about Him that He is strict, that He is vengeful, that He repays, that He is just in repaying, that He is wrathful, that He becomes angry, that He remembers the sins of the parents in dealing with their children's children. 

For we have a better understanding about God and a higher knowledge of Him: we know Him as One who forgives, Who is good, Who is humble; Who for a single good thing [in us, even] only in thought or even for mere compunction of heart, forgives the sins of [many] years. And not only does He not remember another's sins, but His mercy does away with the multitude of sins even of those who have perished in sin and have already died (III/11, 4-5).

The difference between childish thinking about God and mature thinking about God, for Isaac, concerns the nature of God's disposition towards those with whom he has his dealings: the childish and immature suppose that God is not fundamentally committed to the well-being of his creatures in everything, whereas the mature do. 

In Ascetical Homilies II/39, we find even more impassioned language on this topic:The act of imagining that wrath, fury, jealousy, or other such things have anything to do with the divine Nature fills us with horror, because no one who has a sound mind and intelligence can come to such an insanity as to think such things about God. We cannot even say that He behaves Himself this way so as to pay back evil, even if at first glance the Scriptures appear to say this. Even merely to think such a thing about God and to say that He pays back evil is an abomination. To suppose that He uses so weighty and grave a thing [as Gehenna] as a payback [for evil] means attributing weakness to the divine Nature, because such a thing we believe cannot be found even in people who lead a virtuous and upright life, and who think in their minds in a godly way (II/39, 2).

If someone were to say that here on earth God wanted to show his patience towards [sinners] merely so that he could punish them without mercy on the other side, through his childish thinking this person utters against God an unspeakable blasphemy; he undoes His meekness, goodness, and mercy, for which He truly has patience with sinners and the wicked, and he makes Him a slave of passions, as if God didn't permit that they be punished here because His short patience here was preparing for them an even greater evil on the other side. Someone like this not only does not worship God; he calumniates him (II/39, 2)

 

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